Disclaimer: Ashley and Paula are mine, along with anything you don't recognize. The rest isn't or else things would be very different in several shows.
A/N: To Paradigm Shift readers, I suggest checking out my fic Ripple Effect; to RE readers, check out PS. If you don't want to, though, just check my homepage in the Synopsis section, or PM me for details.
Prologue: Jenny Shepard was only mildly surprised by her surroundings when she woke up. Far more shocking in her mind was the fact that she'd woken up at all. She honestly hadn't expected to survive the confrontation with Svytlena's hired guns.
"You know, it's a good thing my sister sees the future or you'd be dead right now," said a matter-of-fact voice. Jenny turned her head, looking into dark gold eyes.
"Paula, what are you doing here?" Jenny wanted to know. "If anyone from NCIS sees you - "
"We're in London, so that isn't likely, especially as they're planning your funeral right about now," Paula Ravenwood pointed out. She was perfectly calm as she spoke, something that could not be said for her audience.
"Excuse me?" It would have been a shout but Jenny's throat was too dry for her to raise her voice that much. Paula shrugged, unfazed by her friend's anger. She did, however, offer her some water, an offer Jenny accepted.
"We were going to fake your death anyway. I just… moved up the timetable. It made things simpler."
Jenny scowled, but she didn't really have a valid argument. Had she survived the murder attempt only to 'die' soon after in a car crash, people would have been suspicious. Jethro would have been, if no one else. And he would have gotten to the truth one way or another; he was good at that. So though she didn't like the idea of 'dying' like this – if nothing else, it occurred to her that Tony and Ziva could be in trouble, even though she'd ordered them to leave – there wasn't really a viable alternative.
"London?" she asked tiredly. "So you've got me hiding in Britain? Please say your contact isn't that flirty captain you told me about."
Paula chuckled. "Jack? No, though I think he'd love you, despite having a steady girlfriend. Her name is Ashley Stafford, she works with Torchwood and the Home Office."
"Friends in high places," Jenny commented.
"Me or her?"
"True. But you have to admit that's good news for you, at least at the moment. I'm using those connections right now. Look, Jen, I did talk to Alex – oh, and Dr. Mallard."
Jen frowned. "We already said Alex had to know – I wasn't about to have my sister thinking I was dead, not when we're all the family each other has. But why talk to Ducky?"
"Because what I did to fool DiNozzo and David was just a glamour. Won't stand up to an autopsy, and I didn't want to mind-rape him. I did some research on your ME to see if I had another option, turned out he worked with Jack once. I explained it to him like that."
"I doubt he took it well."
"No, but he agreed to keep quiet."
"What did that take?"
"I simply explained that if he said something, he'd be putting his friends in danger."
"So, blackmail, basically."
"I wouldn't go that far…"
"I would," said a British voice from the doorway. "Though if it's effective, keep it up, Ravenwood."
Jenny and Paula both looked at the newcomer. She was a tall woman in her mid to late twenties, with bobbed black hair and sparkling green eyes. "Oh, very funny, Ashley," Paula said irritably. Then she sighed when Ashley simply grinned at her.
"What? You're dragging me into this; I figure I can hassle you a little."
"First of all, you owe me, remember? And secondly… Actually, I don't have a second point. You owe me, Stafford, so quit complaining."
"Right," Ashley said, rolling her eyes and stepping closer to the bed. "So you're Jenny Shepard, right? I'm Ashley Stafford."
"Nice to meet you," Jenny managed. This girl was going to be her handler – for lack of a better term – while she was here? She was so young – granted, she was older than Paula had been on the New Orleans op, but only by a few years.
Don't worry, Ashley's a professional. She had some really crazy shit almost a year ago, and she handled it well. Her job's not exactly a safe one, she's not naïve. She just likes riling me up – she's usually much more serious than this. Paula's voice slid silkily through Jenny's mind, guessing what was wrong and trying to alleviate Jenny's concerns.
Jenny relaxed a little; she trusted Paula enough to give Stafford a chance. And it seemed she'd been right, because as the dark-haired woman took the chair on Jenny's other side, all levity disappeared from her demeanor. "So, what exactly do we know so far about this?"
"How much did Paula tell you about Nash?" Jenny asked.
"She gave me the file, so I know what this guy can do. I know he's a projective null, and that means I can't pick him up. I also know that you need a new name, records, everything required in a cover ID, and it's all in this file." She pulled it out and waved it in Jenny's face. Then she sighed, leaning back a little. "Is that enough?"
"Yes," Jenny told her. Paula was eyeing the younger woman with some amusement.
"You try spending half the night chasing Smilodon cubs so you can send them and their mother back without her going apeshit and see how you feel," the dark haired Brit shot back, her voice dripping sarcasm.
"Smilodons? Aren't they saber-toothed tigers?" Jenny asked.
"Yeah," Stafford said. "Oh, Ravenwood didn't tell you? I work in anomalies – holes in time and space – and containing the creatures that come out of them."
"What, like dinosaurs?"
"Among other things."
Jenny shook her head, glancing at Paula. "Does anyone you know work in normal things?"
"Yeah, you." Jenny rolled her eyes and Stafford laughed.
"Oh, this is going to be fun, I can see that."
"Your idea of fun is alarming, Stafford," Jenny observed.
"It's Ashley, Ms. Shepard. Or rather, Ms. James," Ashley corrected herself, opening the file and showing the contents to Jenny.
"Samantha James," Jenny said, taking the file and looking through it. This was really happening. Somehow it hadn't seemed real until she held the papers in her hand that contained her new identity. She took a deep, steadying breath, trying not to think of what she was leaving behind.
Samantha James was an American expatriate, a private detective, and a loner. She wasn't married or in a relationship. She had no living relatives and few friends. She had certainly never felt almost like a mother for a group of close-knit but extremely quirky 'kids', nor had she ever fallen in love with a blue-eyed federal agent that she'd never quite gotten over. That had happened for Jenny, but for the moment Jenny was dead. She could handle that, she could be Samantha. For the sake of the people in the life she'd left behind, she could do whatever she had to.